We were very privileged to have the late producer/engineer Al Schmitt join us a decade ago for an excellent Q&A while he was at the peak of his late-career powers. Synonymous with Capitol Studios, his work included legendary recordings for Steely Dan, Toto, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Boz Scaggs, Ray Charles, Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, and about a million more! Al earned seven Grammy® awards throughout his esteemed career and was extremely generous in sharing his knowledge with us. Put on your sharpest suit to catch up with this read - Al was as classy a dresser as he was a studio engineer!



[top]Your use of reverb is so lush and yet so natural. Would you mind sharing with us what kind of reverbs you like on particular sources and how you are using them in the mix? - Empire Prod


I use a few different reverbs from Lexicon, TC Electronics, Bricasti, and the great live chambers at Capitol. I try to mix and match different reverbs to create space and depth in the mix. It really depends on the song and the artist, but it's something I pay careful attention to. I usually tend to use shorter reverbs on rhythm instruments, and longer ones on brass and strings, but there are no rules.


[top]I'd love for you to talk through ways you go about setting the release of compressors. - SonicAlchemist


It really depends on the song and what I'm compressing, but I generally use slower attack and release times. I never compress very much, so you don't hear a lot of pumping from the compressors.


[top]Do you use Multiband Compression on the master bus at all?? - NeoHippy


Hi Alex. I use a TubeTech SMC-2B on the stereo buss when I mix, but I don't compress that much, just a dB or two. I like the sound of the tubes.


Tube-Tech SMC 2B


[top]How do you keep the definition between the contra basses in The orchestra and the bass in the rhythm section? - Nowak


Good question. Usually the rhythm bass is playing pizzicato, and the basses in the orchestra are bowed, which helps. I also pan the rhythm bass in the center, and the orchestral basses to the right, where they sit in the orchestra.


[top]Would you share your approach to a big band session? How do you set up the players? How do you approach mic'ing them - do you rely on individual mic's? section mic's? overall mic's? Do you tend to put any particular instruments in an iso booth? And how do you approach recording strings for those big, lush pop arrangements? - RobAnderson


Big band sessions are some of my favorite ones to do. I set up the big band with the rhythm section toward the back of the room, usually with the drums and bass in booths for some isolation, and the brass and woodwinds in front of them. I usually set the woodwinds toward the left, and the brass to the right in kind of a "V" shape. I pan them the same way in the mix. We use a combination of close mics and section mics to get a natural sound. If the band and the arrangement are good, they pretty much balance themselves in the room.

For strings, the approach is pretty much the same. Violins toward the left, violas in the center. celli, and basses toward the right. A few spot mics over the sections, and a pair of good room mics. Again, if the orchestra and arrangement are good, it's easy.


[top]I was driving home from work listening to 'under my skin' from 'A Night In Paris' by Diana Krall. That intro makes me well up. I'm intrigued as to whether you use extra echoes/reverb on vocals when mixing a live recording like this, the sense of space and size surrounds you. - Fezzle


Thanks. I do use reverb when mixing live albums. Maybe not as much as on a studio album, but it's there.


[top]Just wondering what you do differently when recording (and/or) mixing a live record as opposed to a studio record. Granted when you're doing Krall records with everyone in the same room, it's essentially a live record - but how do you approach things like room mic levels, monitor bleed and heavily multi-mic'd orchestras (a la Chris Botti Live in Boston)? - ajcdrum


Good question. It can be a bit tricky. We try to set up the band so that they are all comfortable, and can see and hear properly. Then I try to pick the right mics and use the patterns for as much isolation as I can get. After that it's just balance. We usually hang a few mics in the audience that we use in the surrounds if it's a 5.1 mic. In the past we've used clip-on mics for the strings. Sometimes it works, usually they don't sound very good but can be helpful when problems arise.



Neumann M 149

[top]I was wondering if you have a personal Mic collection, what does that include, and do they come to the office regularly with you. - Tuchel


I do have a collection of mics. 5 x m149s, two of every Royer they make. A lot of Audio Tec mics. A great Brauner, 2 x m147s. I have about 30 mics in my collection. I do like to work at studios that have great mics. Capitol has at least 20 U67s, lots of U47s, a C24, C12As, and lots of ribbons. Claus Heine does great work on tube mics, the mic I use on Diana Krall has been worked on by him and it's the best U67 i've ever heard. Don't ask me what he did to it because I don't know but it sure sounds wonderful. I'm in love with my 149s, I use them on Piano, upright bass, as room mics, but I'm not crazy about them on vocals. I've heard the new Sankin mics and they sound great.


[top]Do you have a preference for Mic Cables? - nosebleedaudio


I do have some Monster cables that we use at times, but most of the time I use the cables that the studio supplies. We do phase check everything before every session, so we never have a problem there.


[top]Which microphone preamps do you use on bass and vocals? - Walth


I love the Martec and I also love the Neve pres. I have a lot of special pres that I use, Mastering Lab, Studer Valve, upstate audio and some great Neves. I kind of mix and match. I use my ears to tell me what is working best.


[top]I believe that you use Neve VR at Capitol a lot. What do you think about this console? Do you use the onboard dynamics? - jetam


They now have an 88R in studio A but before that it was a VR, I used all my own preamps when I recorded on the VR, I am not a big fan of the pres on the VR but I love the preamps on the NEVE 88R.


[top]From what I understand, you were one of the recording engineers on "Unforgettable, With Love" by Natalie Cole.

There's a little bit of confusion on my part regarding this, but from what I understand Ike Cole played piano on some of the album. Well, my father, George Gaffney did as well. I have his platinum award hanging on my wall in memory of him. You see, he passed away as a result of a stroke in December of 2002 and I don't particularly remember much about him—I'm 17 now, so I was 7 when he passed away.

I'm curious, if you have this knowledge as to what tracks he had played on, and what pianos he used on those tracks—and lastly, what (if anything) you remember about his playing? It's very sentimental to me, so I'd appreciate any knowledge you have about him you have. - QuadWing


Hi Ngalo, I don't remember much, I did record 90 per cent of the recording and all of the mixing. I knew your father and he was a hellova musician and a very nice man. I don't remember what tracks he played on but whatever tracks it was you can be sure it was great. I'm sorry I can't help much more than that. You can be proud of your dad. He was a great guy.


[top]Which is the sweetest Eq you have ever used, that works best at higher frequencies (10k to 20k or above) for you? - shani haider


I don't use a lot of eq at all, but when I do I like the GML EQ and the old tube Pultecs. For a bit of real hi top end, I use the "AIR" band on the NTI EQ.


George Massenburg Labs GML 82000


[top]How much time do you usually spend on a project like D Krall, that includes brass (big band) and strings? Tracking and mixing. - unit7


About three or four days recording, and about four days mixing, I work very fast.


[top]I've read a few of your interviews where you mention you use very little compression on your recordings. I've tried riding the fader but do not get the sound heard on so many records, including yours. It just sounds extremely peaky, amateurish and it's a constant battle to get it to fit without jumping around too much. - Jtaylor27


I use Summit TLA 100a on the bass but I just tap it maybe 1dB at most, I use the Fairchild 660 on vocals and do the same just 1dB, I use it for the sound of the tubes in the Fairchild. I hope this helps.

I ride the vocals all the time and do so on other instruments, I think maybe you need to practice a bit more, I'm sure you will get it down with a little more practice.


Fairchild Model 660


[top]Are you still working with analog tape nowadays or do you mix digital..? - Swinxx


I'm into ProTools at 96, I miss using tape but it's so hard to find good tape now. The last couple of times we had bad tape and had to use ProTools, so I don't bother anymore. I also mix down to 192 using a JCF converter and a Tascam DV RA1000HD, I find it's much easier to edit and we save a lot of time. Moving solos around and fixing vocals is a lot easier on ProTools.


[top]Re recording a Jazz Trio or Quartet in one single room, I want to have the Bass Player stand near the Drummer (because of the Feel) - but - is there any Trick (Microphone Position, Shielding, or anything else... ) to keep the Drum Noise low in the Bass-microphone? - Coachella45


Not really, I don't have any tricks, I put gobos around the drummer, just small ones so everyone has good eye contact. I use two mics on the bass one at the f hole and one up by the fingers. Make sure everyone can hear well and then they should balance themselves. I rely on the musicians to let me know how well they hear each other. Most of the time it's just minor adjustments.


[top]I’m a big fan of Barbara Streisand. Can you share any details from that session that you recall or any other sessions you had with Barbara? - Walth


Barbra is amazing, God gave her a kiss on the throat, She always uses the same mic on vocals a Neumann M49 she has to rent it because the people who own it won't sell it to her. She has an unbelievable memory and remembers every line and breath she has ever sung. She always sings live with The orchestra and we recorded her at various studios Capitol, Sony Scoring stage and Ocean Way. She is a perfectionist and sometimes that can make for very long hours in the studio.



Telefunken U47

[top]I would love to hear a bit about Michael Franks' 70s albums that you worked on; in particular my favorites "The Art of Tea" and "Sleeping Gypsy". Can you share some info on how they were recorded/mixed? - FunkyKeys


When we recorded Michael, It was at Capitol A and the rhythm section was all in the main room. We overdubbed Michaels vocals, he was on a Tele U47 and we used a 1076 limiter pulling about 1 to 11/2 dBs. He does sing very softly. We had everyone around the drums all very close, no earphones. We overdubbed the strings and I used Neumann U67s on the violins and viola and KM 84s on Celli. On the Rhodes we took it with a good direct box.


[top]I was wondering if Paul McCartney used any of his "technical" skills during the sessions.Was he hands on? - hAPIguy


He was really hands off, I picked all the mics and during the mixing he and Tommy LiPuma let me do my thing. This album was one of the most enjoyable of my entire career. He is one of the nicest people I have ever worked with and I can't wait to do another one with him. The DVD and T V show on the album will be out in the fall.


[top]Earfood is one of my favorite records and I really love the sound of this album.
Could you share some information about the recording session? - Ma_pa


all the musicians were in the same room at Capitol except the drummer, I used a Royer on Roy and a Neumann u67 in omni on the sax, two Neumann M149s on the piano and the same on the bass. Most of the tunes were first takes. I had everyone close so they had easy access to one another. It was a fun project and these kinds of records are what I live for.


[top]I am a big fan of your work with Sam Cooke & love the sound of the song “Shake” in particular. I was wondering if you could share any details from that session that you recall (or any sessions with Sam), like what microphone Sam used, how were the drums miked in the room and how did you achieve such a huge reverb sound on Shake? - Kungfujeezus


Sam was my favorite artist to work with, he was amazing in the studio. When we were working on these recordings there was little or no mixing, I used a Telefunken U47 on his vocals and this is still my preference. No eq and no compression, RCA had 5 live chambers and I used them all on this recording. It's hard to find good live chambers, that's one of the reasons I love mixing and recording at Capitol, they have 8 live chambers all sounding different. My personal favorite is No. 4. Sam and I became very good friends and I'm sorry to say I had dinner with him the night he was shot.



Royer Labs R-122V Tube

[top]Could you tell us about recording and mixing acoustic guitar? Your favorite mic, preamp, EQ, compressor? Mic placement? - hotab


I don't use eq or compression when I record acoustic guitar, I use different mics, I like the Royer Tube, I also use the large diaphragm tube that Audio Technica makes and sometimes the Neumann M149. I place it in front of the f hole about 1 foot from the guitar. I'll adjust it after listening in the control room. Sounds simple and it is.


[top]Please can you give us more info about what microphone technique you use for recording Diana Krall's piano? - Icecubeman


On Diana's piano I use two Neumann M149s I place them about 16 inches over the hammers, sometimes I put them in omni but mostly cardioid, I don't use eq or compression when recording.


[top]As far as I'm concerned Toto IV is one of the best sound records for how natural and punchy the whole record is. Could you share any insights into the engineering of the elements of the band? Also was it a heavily overdubbed recording session, or built up of scratch tracks and overdubbing? - Jampot


Hi, Toto IV was a joy to work on. All the tracks I worked on were recorded with all the rhythm tracks done at the same time, Piano, bass, drums, percussion and guitar. Then we started over dubbing guitar, horns, vocals etc. I didn't get to mix the album, it was mixed by Greg Laydani who passed away about a year ago. He was a great engineer and I miss him.


[top]I just wanted to say many thanks for an incredible Mix With The Masters week in France! That week changed my working methods and the way I listen to music more than any other single thing (or piece of gear...) in the last twenty years. - Jannev


It was my pleasure to do Mix with The Masters, It was a great experience for me. I think I learned as much as I taught, but I'm very happy to know that you got so much out of the time we spent together.


[top]Do you use special recording techniques for surround? - Andreas Leonhard


My approach to mixing in surround is very similar to mixing in stereo. In surround I try to just spread things a bit wider and use the surrounds. We do use 5.1 reverbs, usually my TCM6000, and my Lexicon PCM96. If I'm doing the recording, I like to hang extra room mics that I can use in the surround mix also.


Lexicon PCM96


[top]Love the bass sound on Diana Krall's "Love Scenes"... No doubt GREAT bass player (Christian McBride) but it sounds AMAZING, what Mic and placement did you use and compressor? - Nosebleedaudio


I use two Neumann M 149s on the bass, one on the f hole and one up by the fingers. I put both mics into a Summit TLA and compress about one DB.Thats about it, it helps to have a good bass player with a good sounding bass.



Gearspace would like to give very special thanks to Steve Genewick for helping this Q&A happen.